“We have a lot of depth at the offensive skill” said a satisfied Urban Meyer, moments after his Buckeyes put the finishing touches on a 77-10 drubbing of Bowling Green on Saturday.
Ohio State opened its season as the most inexperienced team in college football. The narrative surrounding the program was that the Buckeyes were extremely talented, but it would take time for the young group of receivers to gel with veteran quarterback J.T. Barrett.
That notion was dispelled quickly as the Buckeyes piled up a school record 776 yards of offense in the rout. Nine Buckeyes caught a pass. Eight scored a touchdown. And as J.T. Barrett dissected the Falcons’ secondary with surgeon-like precision, fans in the stands flipped through their game program and asked questions like, Who the hell is K.J. Hill?
It’s a fair question. Including H-Backs Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson, there were 10 receivers listed on last week’s depth chart. Hill was not one of them. Nevertheless, it was the stocky redshirt freshman from Arkansas who hauled in Barrett’s first scoring strike of the game.
When Meyer came to Columbus in 2011 he called the group of pass catchers he inherited a clown show. On Saturday, a total of 10 receivers saw meaningful snaps with the first team offense. This deep rotation is a testament to just how well Meyer has recruited; when one 4-star receiver with 4.4 speed gets a little winded, there’s an almost identical athlete waiting to check in.
It’s this type of the depth that separates the Ohio State’s and Alabama’s of the world from the rest of the country, let alone a MAC team like Bowling Green.
“We want to wear people down,” Meyer told the media on Monday. “We want to play fast, play a lot of people.”
This type of strategy is commonly deployed by defensive line coaches, who look to send waves of fresh pass rushers at opposing quarterbacks. It’s less common to see a coaching staff rotate this many receivers, when fresh legs could come at the expense of continuity between Barrett and his top pass catchers.
On Monday, Meyer stressed that he doesn’t intend to cut into this rotation. But Ohio State’s head coach tends to speak in terms of the ideal, and not the pragmatic. For instance, it’s common to hear Meyer say we don’t redshirt at Ohio State. Last season, all but four freshman did.
In the case of the Buckeyes’ receivers, history tells us it’s likely that the coaching staff will settle on a group of six for Barrett to rely on. It’s distinctly possible that there is just too much talent in the position group to relegate four contributors to the bench, but this coaching staff has a tendency to tighten things up a bit for big games.
Saturday’s contest with Tulsa is Ohio State’s last tuneup before diving into what could be the program’s most challenging schedule in years. A road trip to Oklahoma on September 17 looms large.
The Buckeyes’ coach was hesitant on Monday to overpraise his young roster, even after a record-setting performance. In particular, he singled out the receiving group as a unit that “didn’t play very good.”
Meyer received a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Cincinnati, and the man is a master of coaching through mind games. It’s possible that he’d divulge this to the media as a public challenge to his receivers to step up and command a more significant role.
If so, Meyer’s words could indicate that a pecking order is being established. It was thought that Corey Smith and Parris Campbell would be two of Barrett’s favorite targets this year. Neither caught a pass on Saturday, and Smith in particular was mentioned as someone who didn’t play up to his potential.
Conversely, Terry McLaurin was the only receiver designated as a championship-level performer, despite playing less snaps with the first team than most of his counterparts.
Barrett threw 31 passes against Bowling Green and only ran the ball six times. It’s likely that the coaching staff will save their quarterback from the pounding associated with the read-option run game for contests like Oklahoma. So the receivers should have plenty of opportunity to shine once again against Tulsa.
Whether those opportunities are available a week later in Norman remains to be seen. Meyer will not rely upon players if he doesn’t trust that they can perform on the biggest stage. Consider Saturday as a final audition for a large group of talented performers fighting to prove themselves worthy of a lead role.